Ever wonder why certain types of complexions seem to run in families? It's because genetics play an important role in many common skin conditions. Let's explore how genetics and skin care relate to each other.

What Are Genetic Risk Factors?

When looking at health conditions, regarding your skin or otherwise, medical professionals often consider two categories of causes or triggers: environmental and genetic risk factors. While you (mostly) have influence over environmental risk factors—the climate you're exposed to, whether you smoke, how you wash, nutritional habits, etc.—genetic factors are beyond your control. Your genes were given to you by your parents as soon as you were created. They make you who you are but can leave you predisposed to certain conditions. These factors are not usually the sole determinant of whether you experience a given skin condition, but they can certainly increase your likelihood of experiencing it. Often, health conditions are a result of both of these risk factor types.

Although you can't change your genes, the upside is that your genetic risk levels are predictable—all you have to do is take a look at your family's medical record for a rough idea of how your skin health might play out over your life.

How Do Your Genes Affect Your Skin?

The majority of common skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and melasma, are influenced by both environmental and internal factors. Conditions like eczema, specifically, very often run in families. In fact, doctors have identified that specific gene abnormalities lead to the production of defective proteins and lipids for use in the skin barrier, ultimately leading to dry skin and eczema.

Researchers spend lots of time studying relationships between diseases, and there's much to be learned from observing what conditions occur together, even if one or both are rather mild or unremarkable.

Below are some common skin conditions that Dermatologists believe to have a genetic component.

Conditions with Likely Genetic Connections

You might be at heightened risk for these if a close relative has also dealt with them:

Eczema

This chronic skin itchiness tends to run in families and often coincides with seasonal allergies and asthma. This is often known to Dermatologists as Atopic March.

Psoriasis

A chronic inflammatory condition that most commonly affects the skin and joints. If a parent, grandparent, brother, or sister has psoriasis, you're at risk, too.

Acne

Often, individuals with severe acne will also report it in their siblings, mother, or father.

Melasma

A recent study suggests that melasma can run in the family.

Skin cancer

Whether it's from inheriting fair skin and risk of sunburns, or other genes that can directly lead to skin cancer development, this is an important one to watch. Light skin and hair color, as well as other genetic features, are strongly correlated to high skin cancer risk.

How You Can Help

Always keep in mind both your genetics and skin care regimen when you think about your overall health.

By far the most important thing you can do to support skin health and prevent the photodamage that leads to sagging and wrinkles is to use a sunscreen product every day. After all, the majority of skin cancer is induced by ultraviolet radiation, so taking advantage of the protection of a daily broad-spectrum SPF 30+ product is an invaluable habit. Other great tips for avoiding sun damage (and further irritation to eczema, psoriasis, and melasma) are to seek shade and avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. A wide-brim hat and sun clothing can always give additional protection.

A board-certified Dermatologist would be happy to discuss your personal and family health history to help plan for any skin issues that seem likely in your future. Developing this relationship sooner rather than later is a great idea.

Finally, remember that although you cannot choose your parents, you can definitely choose a lifestyle and habits that can lead to better and healthier skin.

Author

  • Dr. Jenny Liu is a board-certified Dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her blog, DermTalkDocs.com, combines her professional and personal passions—dermatology and medicine, medical education, skin care, fashion, and motherhood.